Jen Campbell, author of Franklin’s Flying Bookshop, shares how important early experiences of books
and reading can be to children.
Children are the best thing about being a bookseller. Working in the book trade for ten years, I never tired of the look of wonder on their faces as they edged into our bookshop, inhaling that intoxicating bookish scent.
A young girl called Imogen once asked me if she could get to Narnia through one of our bookcases. When I told her sadly not, she nodded bravely – looking wise beyond her years – and declared her wardrobe at home didn’t work for getting to Narnia, either; she suspected it was because her father had bought it at IKEA. Instances like this were common: children would act out their favourite scenes between the bookshelves and it was a pleasure to see them grow up via the books they read.
Books also saw them through difficult times: we saw Matilda devoured by a seven year old who was being picked on at school, and Grandpa’s Island, was the go-to for parents helping toddlers cope with the loss of a grandparent.
Books aren’t just for the bad times, of course – and nor are they substitutes for important conversations we should be having with our children – but they do offer a way to explore worlds and situations we will never encounter ourselves. Books breed empathy and understanding; they offer us adventure and possibility.
One day, as I was getting ready to close up the bookshop, a young boy came up to me and said: ‘You should get a dragon to guard the bookshop when you’re not around.’ I grinned: ‘Wouldn’t a dragon be a fire hazard?’ He rolled his eyes, bemoaning my adult concerns. ‘No,’ he said, slowly. ‘Not if you get a trained one.’
Franklin’s Flying Bookshop is my fifth book, but my first for children. Its characters embody the power of books, and the importance of listening. And, as Franklin and Luna point out, sometimes a good book is just what we need.
Jen Campbell is author of the ‘Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops’ series. ‘Franklin’s Flying Bookshop’ is her first picture book for children.